Soup, Bibles, & Blankets

(originally published December 2006)

For a brief time in my life, I had the incredible privilege of living in the small custodial apartment of a downtown Las Vegas church. I worked full-time as a teacher and part-time as the church janitor. I was blessed with two jobs, many friends, and a cozy, safe apartment. Many of my downtown neighbors were jobless, homeless, and slept in the alley behind the dumpsters.

Because I had so much, and my neighbors had so little, I kept a crockpot full of thick stew or chili cooking all the time. Every evening I would take the pot, disposable bowls, chunks of French bread, and small bottles of juice out onto my porch so my neighbors could have a warm meal.

The pastor and I used to have words over my charity. He said there were soup kitchens set up to feed the homeless, and I was putting myself at unnecessary risk. I understood his concern, but I could not sit warm, safe, secure, and well-fed, doing nothing to help those right outside my door who weren’t.

One rainy winter evening after feeding my “regulars,” I was climbing the stairs to my apartment when I heard teeth chattering. I stopped on the staircase and searched the alley with my eyes. There was a man wedged into the tiny service alcove where the power and water meters were for the building next door. The hollow was dry, but the man had no jacket or blanket, and he had curled into a ball to fight the cold. I went upstairs to get him food.

Bowl, stew, spoon, bread, juice … I couldn’t walk out of my apartment.

He needs a blanket. I heard the words loud and clear inside my head. I knew that voice but didn’t want to listen to it. I went to the door.

He needs a blanket.

I answered, “Listen, you know I’ve given all my blankets away except the ones on my bed.”

Give him the comforter.

“No. That’s mine. It is special. It is expensive. Someday I will have a bed it fits again.”

Give him the comforter.

No matter what argument I used, the voice remained insistent. I got the comforter – and while I was in the closet I saw a big candle I’d been given ages ago and had never used. I grabbed it, too, and rolled it in the comforter, along with a pack of matches. Once again I was ready to open the door.

Give him a Bible.

“No! No! No! I don’t have any more of the giveaway Bibles, all I have left are my own. No!”

I opened the door and stepped out onto the landing, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk down the stairs.

Give him a Bible.

“They’re mine! I know I have a lot of them, but they are all different translations or have different features and I need them!”

Give him a Bible.

By this time I was ticked. My favorite blanket and now one of my treasured Bibles — all for a guy I had never seen before in my life, would likely never see again and who probably didn’t even want the dang stuff cluttering up his life in the first place – but I obeyed.

When I got to the cubby in the alley the only thing I said to the man was, “Here!” Then I shoved the bundles at him and dashed away. I wasn’t about to stay and be pleasant when he was taking stuff I didn’t want to part with.

The next morning my first thought was for my blanket and my Bible. I went into the alley. The man and my possessions were gone. In a way, I left better. I’d more than half expected everything to be floating in a puddle.

Months passed. The church sold. I moved away, and I never gave the man another thought. Then one day as I was driving by the old neighborhood I swung into the grocery store where I’d always shopped. I’d barely walked through the door when one of the employees stopped me. “Hey,” he said. “Aren’t you the lady that lived in the church they tore down?”

“Yes,” I answered. He didn’t look at all familiar.

Then he said, “One night you brought me food, a candle, a comforter, and a Bible. That was probably the worst night of my life. I had never been so cold.”

I looked at him. He couldn’t have been more than thirty. He was clean, dressed in tan jeans and the store smock. His tennis shoes were new. He didn’t look like an alley bum.

He said, “I wrapped up in the blanket, put the candle on the water meter, lit it, then I started to read the Bible. I read Psalm 23 first — a lot of times. Then I went to the new testament and I read about Jesus. When the sun came up in the morning I climbed out of that hole and took myself to the rehab mission. I have been clean and sober now for six months. I have a job and my own apartment. I still have your Bible and your blanket if you want them back.”

My throat was so thick with tears I could barely speak, but I managed to say, “No. That’s okay. Please keep them.”

Then he thanked me and said no one had ever been that kind to him before.

Kind. Right.

——

God seeks our obedience. If unwilling obedience can reclaim a lost and wasted life, what might heart-felt, loving obedience achieve?

SECTION ONE, RE-DONE

Corner Repair

I stared at this block for a month, bothered by the uneven top edge. Trimmimg it would drastically reduce the border on the top left double bordered hour glass block as well as leave this unit a half inch shorter than the unit that will attach to its left. I pondered many possible fixes including simply lengthening the seven top right strips, but I reasoned, if I was going to look as though I added something, it might as well be a new design element. Those seven little squares in the top right corner are not part of the original Gypsy Wife Quilt pattern.

Section One, Complete

Section One, Gypsy Wife Quilt

I’m not wholly thrilled with this section. I discovered that the quarter-inch foot I have been using is more than an quarter inch. I have also discovered that this pattern requires a scant-quarter inch. A scant quarter inch is an imaginary number, and I am just supposed to magically know what the imaginary spacing is and sew at it consistently? Seriously?

I love Jen Kingwell’s designs, but I don’t think much of her patterns. She leaves far too much to “guess” to suit me. If I am buying a pattern, I expect it to actually provide direction, not approximation. One of our group quilt along admins is an engineer and even she has admitted she’s had trouble figuring out the math and translating the ideas for us. If I were doing this alone, I probably would have quit by now.

As it is, a good many members of our group are substituting blocks when they can’t make things work. Plus, a significant portion of our 2876 members are waiting to see if we’re actually successful before they even begin, and several people have already “noped” out of the group. My advice to anyone tempted to do The Gypsy Wife Quilt is to find the pattern, read it carefully and be sure you know what you’re getting into (it’s a 36 page book and it is not put together in order), then find or form a support sewing group and everyone work together. I have my online sewing group, and Amoeba. By the time I’ve finished this quilt he’ll have about as much invested in it as I do (maybe even more since I tend to use his wallet when I go shopping).

Section Two begins on March 2nd. I don’t know that I’ll be starting on time. My sewing space is a little out of control and needs some tidying. I think I’ll spend the weekend trying to stuff it all back into dust- and light-proof storage containers and onto shelves.

One section done. Only nine more to go.

One of These is NOT Like The Other

Something seams to be wrong.

My beautiful, bordered flower-square in a square has five tiny squares at its base. Those squares are each a snippet of strips. I don’t like working with small pieces, which is partly why I choose to work with this pattern. It has a bazillion “out of my comfort zone” elements that I need to tackle.

This is the correct orientation of the strip squares.
This seams much better!

Have you found my mistake? Apparently “right-side-up” is also an element I need to add to my skill set. As I’ve mentioned before, all these strips run through the quilt from top to bottom and they are supposed to line up. I’ve barely started and I’m already having trouble keeping them in order.

I am also struggling with those tiny pieces. I don’t “seam” straight. It is a good thing this is a scrappy quilt. The wildness of the design will help camouflage my wobbles.

Section One, Part C, challenged me.

Oops: Take Two

The center of section #1.
An “oops” in the center of section #1.

My seam ripper and I have been spending quality time together. Her name is “Dame It,” because that is what I yell whenever I need her.

The “Puss in the Corner” block is actually the “Puss in the Center” of section #1. This part of the section was very easy to put together — and I still had to use my seam ripper because I sewed the two long strips on the wrong side of Puss.

This is the correct orientation of the strips in the center section of my Gypsy Wife Quilt.
This is the correct strip orientation.

The strips will ru the full length of the quilt, top to bottom. They will be intersected by other blocks. I am trying to keep the strips scrappy and colorful, in the true spirt of Jen Kingwell’s, Gypsy Wife Quilt pattern, yet still have my blocks hold their own amid the chaos. I chose the strips with careful deliberation. Setting out to make things both clash and match is a mental workout. I have a feeling keeping the strips in order from top to bottom may very well provide Dame It with steady exercise, as well.

Section 1, Part B; ready.